Friday, September 07, 2007

What a treat is was to talk with "Mystery Science" and "Film Crew" member Kevin Murphy! He's a very bright articulate guy and his book should be read by any serious film fan.

Kevin Murphy admitted with a laugh last week that he has “an odd peculiar talent.”

Murphy is one of handful of people who have carved out a true niche career in show business by making fun of bad movies – first as a writer and cast member on the late and much lamented television series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and now as part of “The Film Crew.”

Murphy, who was puppeteer behind Tom Servo on “Mystery Science,” has reunited with fellow cast members Mike Nelson and Bill Corbett on a new project, “The Film Crew.” The premise is that Murphy, Corbett and Nelson are three working class joes hired by eccentric billionaire Bob Honcho to provide commentary tracks on movies that have never before been given a commentary track.

“The Film Crew” DVDs continue the career Murphy started in 1988 when he started working on “Mystery Science,” then a local program on an independent UHF station.

“That’s a dang long time to be making fun of movies,” he said.

Three films have been given “The Film Crew” treatment so far include:
• “Hollywood After Dark,” a disastrous cross between a serious drama, a caper crime films and exploitation film with strippers starring Rue McClanahan;
• “Killers from Space,” a science fiction film featuring Peter Graves, alien invaders with, literally, ping pong balls for eyes and scene after scene of stock footage;
• And the newest release, “Wild Women from Wongo,” a 1958 film about ugly and good looking cave people worshipping alligators and trying to find love or something close to it.

The three films have been released on DVD by Shout Factory and a fourth film, a Steve Reeves sword and sandal epic, will be released later this year.

The result, in this reviewer’s opinion, has been three DVDs I want to watch over and over again.

Murphy described “Wongo” as a film that was supposed to be “a caveman sex romp” and should appeal to anyone who grew up thinking “Betty Rubble was hot.”

“‘Wongo’ is a train wreck, yet in another way it's wistful,” he added.

Murphy explained the new premise allows the emphasis to be placed on the commentary or “riff.” “Mystery Science” was about a guy marooned on a space station by an evil scientist who wanted to torture him by forcing him to watch bad movies. The former series required a team of six to 10 writers not only coming up with the commentaries but also with the gag-laden framing sequences.

He described the premise of the new show as a “paper thin fiction.”

For the new incarnation, Murphy, Corbett, and Nelson each write a third of the script. Murphy lives in the Minneapolis, Minn., area, Nelson is now on the west coast and Corbett has been busy commuting to Los Angeles – he has co-written the script for the new Eddie Murphy film “Starship Dave.”

They then do a re-write as a group, rehearse it and shoot the framing sequence and commentary in a studio in Minneapolis.

Murphy said the writing process works so well he dared anyone to try to tell where one writer ended and another begins.

Murphy said the area is a “great town” for film production – the “Mystery Science” shows were all produced there.

“Nobody needs to go to Hollywood to produce stuff,” he said.

The films themselves come from Sinister Cinema, a company that sells movies that are in the public domain. Murphy said each film must go through a process to make sure it’s not under copyright before production begins.

He said the best films are “earnest but inept,” have an audible soundtrack and “the camera’s in focus.”

Murphy had been producing commercials for KTMA in 1988 when comedian Joel Hodgson had the idea of a movie program in which the host of the film stays with the audience through the duration of film.

His involvement with the show until the of its run in 1999 was “stunning.”

“How many people get to work on a TV show that much of their career?” he asked.

Murphy has done other things, though. His book “A Year at the Movies: One Man’s Filmgoing Odyssey” was a critically acclaimed recounting of his going to a movie every day of 2001.

During that time he went to theaters in several countries, tried to exist one week on concession food and even sneaked his Thanksgiving dinner into one theater.

He said the result of the exercise was “I think I have more patience now [with movies]. One thing I never do is to walk out [of a film].”

He said it’s more difficult to sit through a bad independent film than a mainstream Hollywood offering because the Hollywood films “coat the stomach with a layer of slickness.”

He said seeing that many films in a year allowed him to “expand my cinematic palette.”

Another result was that he grew to like the theater experience less and less in this country. He noted with expectation that an up-coming vacation to Italy will include a trip to a theater there with a considerably better environment than that of American multi-plexes.

Murphy, Nelson and Corbett are also expanding their critical talents to rifftrax where their fans can download commentaries for current films for replay on their computers or MP3 players.

Murphy said making fun of movies such as “The Lord of the Rings” and “300” is “a different beast.”

“It’s a little scarier, but fun,” he said. He added the group actually likes some of the films they lampoon.

And with hundreds of films under his belt, what was the one that induced the most headaches for Murphy?

Murphy said that “Mystery Science” favorite “Manos the Hand of Fate” was difficult because “nothing happens in the film.”

The Vermont-made science fiction feature “Time Chaser” was unusual in that it was the only film the filmmakers actually wanted the “Mystery Science” crew to demolish.

The most challenging film for Murphy, though, was “Red Zone Cuba,” a 1966 bargain basement drama about three ex-convicts who get involved with the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

The film “looked horrible” and director, star and writer Coleman Francis was a “horrible man,” Murphy said with conviction.
He noted the team cut out a rape scene from the film.

“There are snuff films that are more refined,” he noted.

“I needed to take a shower [after working on that film],” he said.

© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

6 comments:

SRBissette said...

Yo, great piece, Mike! Lots of new info, too -- including that TIME CHASERS insight. Is ILLEGAL ALIENS up next?

Mike Dobbs said...

I'm preparing material for the Fleischer book for the U of MIss Press editor, so that has to be first in line...but Illegal Aliens will get an in-depth look.

SRBissette said...

Oh, no -- well, that's good, but I meant THE FILM CREW tackling ILLEGAL ALIENS!

Mike Dobbs said...

Pardon my ego!

Mark Martin said...

Really, Dobbs! He was not trying to stroke you - he has a wide stance!

I'll be covering Illegal Aliens too. It's in my list of things to review.

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